Archives for category: Textile History

Thanksgiving.. Being a foreigner, I don’t have much to say about it, besides that I do like the turkey. So I decided to take this post into a different direction. Let’s talk about fashion…

If I would ask you to explain me the Pilgrims outfit, your answer would come up as something like this right?

Pilgrim’s costumes are generally associated with dark and somber clothes, large white collars and cuffs, and bucket shoes and hats. But that wasn’t true. Pilgrims costumes actually followed fashion in vogue in Europe during the 17th century (or to the biggest extent, a simplified version of it). Something like this..

(Courtesy of

Let’s start from the bottom – shoes! I was asked a question last year on a Thanksgiving trivia game, regarding pilgrims shoes. I don’t remember the exact q&a but, in any case, pilgrims shoes didn’t have buckles. Neither did their hats! Buckles weren’t fashionable in the beginning of the 17th century in Europe. And later on, when they started to be, only the wealthiest of the pilgrims would probably be able to afford them. However, most of the paintings depicting the Pilgrims arrival to North America were done later in the century, so they would just show the costumes as it was fashionable by then.

So leave your buckle heels at home this year!

Pilgrim Shoe, by Roger Vivier, 1950s

Also, the pilgrims didn’t wear only black and white. In fact, pure black textiles in the 17th century was very difficult to achieve, since synthetic dyes weren’t even a dream yet. So, actually, pilgrims clothes, as the north american indians’ ones, would have had natural wool and cotton colors or been dyed with natural dyes. Think browns, golden yellows, blues, reds and beiges.. The dark or black garments would be reserved for special occasions and worship on Sundays.

Something like this 19th century painting..

“Pilgrims going to church”, (1867) by George Henry Boughton, New York Public Library

Also, amongst the passengers of the Mayflower there were wool carders, tailors and seamstress, and shoe and hat makers. With all these resources, one can think that even if simple, the North American Pilgrim’s clothing could be at least creative.

Amongst the Wampanoag there’s probably even more wrong preconceived ideas. For instance, no long feathered headdresses or living in teepees.

The basic Wampanoag clothing for men, women and children was the breechcloth. Breechcloths were made from soft deerskin and worn between the legs with each end tucked under a belt, hanging down as flaps in the front and back. Women would also wear skirts. The deerskin mantle was another garment worn by both men and women. It fastened at one shoulder and was wrapped about the body in various ways, often tied at the waist with a woven belt. The women were the responsible for tanning the skin and sewing it into a garment. (

“The First Thanksgiving” (1915), by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (American painter, 1863-1930)

Although they would normally walk barefoot, they would also wear Moccasinash made of deer, elk and moose skin on the feet in cold weather or rough terrain. The word moccasin is a Wampanoag word for a single shoe. The correct word for a pair is moccasinash.  (

In the absence of good photo or illustration of the moccasins, I leave you with a lovely Wampanoag  twined, braided and hand-dyed bag:

Bag, 1980-1984

(Courtesy of the National Museum of American Indian)

Textile Arts Center will be off until Sunday, enjoying the deserved holiday. We wish to you all a very fashionable Thanksgiving, spent amongst loved ones.

See you next Monday!

One month ago, my friend (and awesome collections manager at the Met) Becky Fifield shared on facebook the link for this exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London. Immediately I traveled back in time..

In 2007, when I was still in textile conservation school, I studied abroad in Antwerp, Belgium. While there, I went to see an amazing exhibition in an old orphanage, featuring their collection of 18th century textile swatches. Why would a orphanage have such a collection? The reason is heartbreaking. During those times, when a mother was leaving a baby at the orphanage, it was very common to tear part or cut part of her garment and leave it with the baby. These little pieaces of fabric would be stored by the institution along with the baby’s identification. If any time in the future, the mother was able to come back and get her baby, the identification was made possible by matching the swatch of fabric that the she would have kept with the swatch in the orphanage database.

Threads of Feeling, at the Foundling Museum in London, features the same textiles with the same story. Between 1741 and 1760, more than 4000 babies were left by their mothers at the Foundling Hospital and for each one  a sample of the mothers garment or their baby garments was kept as for their identification records.

Worckt with flowers’ Linen or cotton embroidered with flowers © Coram

A bunch of 4 ribbons narrow Yellow Blue Green Pink Silk’ ribbons tied in a bunch with a knot © Coram

(images courtesy of

This collection of fabric swatches in the largest collection of 18th everyday textiles surviving in Britain. The curator, John Styles, comments about the exhibition:

“The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

The textiles are both beautiful and poignant, embedded in a rich social history. Each swatch reflects the life of a single infant child. But the textiles also tell us about the clothes their mothers wore, because baby clothes were usually made up from worn-out adult clothing. The fabrics reveal how working women struggled to be fashionable in the 18th Century.”


(images courtesy of
The Foundling Museum took this exhibition even a step further by partnering with London Printworks Trust to reproduce one of the fabric swatches. The chosen swatch was baby Florella’s, born in June 19th 1758. London Printowsork’ staff  was able to reproduce  the original repeat pattern using the little fabric swatch and re-printed by hand 30 meters of cotton fabric with it. The fabric was used to recreate a 18th century bedgown, which is now displayed in the exhibition.

Letter and token left with Florella Burney’s at the Foundling Hospital 19th June 1768 © Coram
(image courtesy of
(images courtesy of London Printworks Trust)

Threads of Feeling can be seem at the Foundling Museum until March 6th 2011. If you found yourself in the UK, make sure you don’t miss it.